Rio+20: stay calm and carry on for last 100 days

Feverish reference to the last 100 days of Rio+20 preparation by the UN Secretary-General, amongst others, has triggered an outbreak of over-hasty announcements.

Let’s start with Nick Clegg, UK deputy prime minister, who will be attending the Rio conference because his boss has developed chronic environmental withdrawal symptoms.

“Arguing, as I will be, at the Rio+20 Summit for green growth to create jobs,” was Clegg’s promise to his party faithful in a speech on Sunday.

Alas, simple phrases that press the right buttons for the UK media may go down like a lead balloon at the UN conference itself. Many developing countries will reinterpret this promise as: “green growth to create jobs in developed countries whose advanced technologies will be shielded by patents and whose green products will be imposed on us by global trade rules made up by those same rich countries.”

Mr Clegg could learn much from his old friends at the Council of the European Union. The Council’s negotiating position for Rio+20, adopted last Friday, shows off the latest diplomatic wording on tricky subjects like green economics.

The first lesson is never to use phrases like “green economy” or “green growth” without qualification. The simplest extension is “inclusive green growth” (no need to explain what this might mean) and the fuller version speaks to “a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction.”

Having tried out this phrase a number of times, the EU text finally takes the plunge and launches another acronym on an unsuspecting world – GESDPE.

A rather different no-go area for the last 100 days is the get-my-special-interest-into-the-Rio-text syndrome. There’s little chance of this being observed but it remains very bad form.

For example, the absence of references to forests in the draft Rio negotiating text continues to attract much comment. The news and analysis service,, reports that the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) blames the International Council for Science for the omission.

The ICSU is the international body responsible for the science profession’s submission to the Rio process – and it’s also the force behind the scenes for the Planet Under Pressure 2012 London conference.

Another forest organisation has been agitated about the text, on the related subject of adaptation to climate change. The Center for International Foresty Research blogged its concerns today: “there is a risk that adaptation might not surface as an over-arching critical issue at Rio+20, as it is not really mentioned in the zero outcome document.”

This last phrase is a most unfortunate abbreviation of “zero draft of the outcome document.” On a good day for such slip-ups, I noticed an exhortation from the committee of the World Water Forum, currently in full swing in Marseille.

Under the headline, “Let’s Commit!” the summary reads:

Call to submit concrete commitments that address the water challenges of today and tomorrow

I’m not sure that cement imagery is the ideal rallying cry to tackle global water scarcity.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK